We’ve all seen — either in a big-picture way or in our own families and communities — how the COVID-19 pandemic is shattering life as we knew it. Black people are more likely to succumb than those who are Latinx, Native American, or white. Not only that, but the Black community has the least resources to manage the pandemic. The fact is, Black families’ wealth is merely a fraction of the wealth possessed by white families, according to Federal Reserve data. And research suggests that even if Black and white children are born into equally-unfortunate economic circumstances, Black children are far less likely to overcome them.
As a demographic, the Black community is already economically behind. According to American Progress, low-paying occupations, often service jobs, already have a higher proportion of Black workers. And these are often jobs that can’t be done remotely, as the virus makes non-socially indirect contact potentially harmful, so workers may be let go, have their hours reduced, or forced to work anyway and hope for the best. In many cases, these jobs may go hand-in-hand with stressors like poverty and food insecurity. These take a toll not only on adult workers, but also on their children and any dependent adults in their care.
It shows that roughly half of Black families may be turning to credit cards, where available, and withdrawing funds from investment and retirement assets to ride out the economic uncertainty. And while that might get them through today, it can present serious problems tomorrow. It sets Black families even further behind when economic recovery does come, and they’ll have an even higher climb to make, as unemployment benefits lapsed in July. Many employers haven’t yet called back all furloughed workers or restored previously-scheduled regular hours.
All of our families are at risk
Virtually none of us are immune from the risk. While Congress debates unemployment benefits, it’s shocking to see the disconnect between Washington and our families. A few hundred dollars isn’t enough to save many of our Black families from economic devastation. My aunt’s hours have been cut at work because of COVID-19, but because her income is higher than the poverty line, there’s no help available to her. My mother’s mortgage payment due date is coming up. The payment is $1200, but her unemployment check has been reduced to less than $200 per week: How is the federal government not helping her supposed to motivate her? As someone who’s spent more than 15 years teaching special needs adults at the local community college, her work isn’t something that can be easily adapted to a virtual model.
While still bearing most of the weight of my family’s anxieties, COVID-19 exposure is still a major concern I face every day. And it’s not just my family’s, either. All of my peers are in the same position: We’re deeply worried about the Black families in our neighborhoods, too.
And Black families aren’t just struggling economically. Black children face academic challenges, too. Even before COVID-19, the Black community suffered from educational and technological disadvantages. Whereas before, kids had options, like going to the public library for internet access, now parents need to worry about ensuring reliable internet access from home. Parents need to provide academic support while managing their employment concerns, too.
Advocate for meaningful solutions
Thinking big picture, advocating for more-equitable tax reform can be part of the solution can help keep Black wealth — however small — in Black families and insulate us from the next Big Thing. However, there are also steps we can take today to provide more immediate relief for ourselves and our families. We can prioritize our financial health, including increasing savings where possible, even if that’s only banking any future stimulus checks. Let’s have honest conversations about money with our families. If I hadn’t known about my mother’s financial troubles and those of my aunt, I wouldn’t be able to help. We need to be creative about problem-solving, whether that’s combining households or thinking critically about our household expenses. And while no one enjoys talking about death, estate planning can preserve Black families’ assets, no matter how “rich” you are.
Reach out to your elected officials and push for public policy initiatives like those suggested by The Urban Institute. These include a federal jobs program to provide employment; reduced housing insecurity through rent stabilization, forbearance and repayment extensions, and access to refinancing programs; economic assistance programs for families who’ve lost someone to COVID-19; and strengthening pay and protections for workers.
Even though Americans tend to cherish our individualism, COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of how individualism fails us, especially in the Black community. By strengthening communication and collaboration within our families, we stand a better chance of survival during and after COVID-19.
Aniesia Williams is a proven thought-leader, journalist, and digital beast. Aniesia possesses over a decade of experience across digital & experiential marketing, branding, communications and publicity. She has worked tirelessly without losing her vision or vibrancy to reflect the voices of brands and businesses that required a courageous leader to catapult them to success. She works in the trenches of Fortune 500 companies and top nonprofits to build brands from being uncertain to undeniable. She contributes and edits insightful content that influences millions of readers, via top media outlets with a global distribution like Business Insider and Black Enterprise. She rightfully takes her seat at the table to speak on the needs for diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry. And while most consider these tasks as a part of her job description as Partner, Chief Experience Officer with Solve Innovation Group, Ms. Williams has consistently shown that this is her personal and professional plight. Her efforts exceed any nine-to-five obligations. She has made it her life’s work.